Sebastien Loeb needs to make it through one more stage to claim victory at the Monte Carlo Rally with the real battle now taking place behind him as Petter Solberg closes on second-placed Daniel Sordo.
Eight-time world champion Loeb leads by two minutes 41.6 seconds going into the short final stage on Sunday.
But behind him, Solberg won three of the four stages to cut Sordo's once comfortable advantage in second place to 18.3 seconds.
Although such a margin will be tough to overcome on the 5.16 kilometre final stage, Sordo struggled for pace all day and was at a loss to explain why.
However, the Mini driver claimed to feel comfortable with his remaining margin.
"Petter needs to push a little harder because I think we have enough of a gap now," he said on wrc.com.
Still, Solberg had the bigger smile after making up more than 40 seconds on the Spaniard over the course of the day, which saw him win stages 15, 16 and 17.
With Solberg on a charge, Loeb came through another day without a stage win, simply putting in solid times to keep his challengers back in the distance.
"I didn't take any risks, I'm just trying to find the right rhythm and to be concentrated," Loeb said midway through the day.
"But it's really difficult to find the right rhythm when all you have in your mind is to make no mistakes."
Loeb's team-mate Mirko Hirvonen won the first stage of the day, and remains fourth overall.
In the Super 2000 WRC class, leader PG Andersson was forced to withdraw following a fire under the bonnet of his Proton during stage 16 having held a seven-minute advantage over Ireland’s Craig Breen.
Breen, who is 14th overall, now stands just one stage away from glory in the season opener.